A Century of Traction Engines

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by W. J. Hughes.

262 pp, 9-1/5 in. x 6 in. (Percival Marshall and Co., Ltd., 19-20, Noel Street, London, W.1. 30s.)

If Philip Wright’s book is an excellent introduction to the subject of the steam traction engine and its history, this book by the well known authority W. J. Hughes is a more detailed and technical treat, of special value to engineers and more serious students of the subject.

The book is copiously illustrated with woodcuts and engineering drawings of traction engines and their mechanisms. It makes an enthralling history of steady progress in this staid field of mechanical engineering, and the later chapters, which describe the traction engines used by road-haulage contractors, are particularly fascinating.

Mr. Hughes concludes this book with a chapter entitled “Handling the Loads,” wherein he describes some of the notable haulage tasks successfully accomplished by steam traction. One reads with respect as well as nostalgia how one of Edward Box’s Fowler Super Lions once pulled a  100-ton Scammell lorry loaded with an 80-ton girder bodily sideways in a London street to clear an awkward corner, and these engines would cope with 120 tons gross, in slow speed. Many more feats of this sort, and some less conventional ones, are recounted to the credit of steam, and some very fascinating illustrations of such epic feats of haulage back up these accounts. Mr. Hughes tells in many instances of the fate of famous traction engines, naming those that survive as he pursues his theme, so “A Century of Traction Engines” has much in common with the present spate of books on veteran and vintage cars. The author is clearly a steam devotee of great enthusiasm and he does not hesitate to remind his readers that a major war could easily cut off Britain from her oil supplies, when she might well regret the closed-down collieries and millions of tons of coal stacked unused in worked-out quarries.

This, and the book by Mr. Wright, are just the thing for reading in a deck-chair in a meadow on a sunny summer afternoon. – W.B.